Exposing the Traditional Marriage Agenda

Feinberg, Jessica | April 1, 2012

The success of a social justice movement, especially with regard to issues upon which the public will be voting, depends in significant part on how the issues are defined or framed. Anti-same-sex marriage campaigns frequently urge voters to vote in favor of laws defining marriage as between a man and a woman in order to “protect traditional marriage.” Instead of framing the issue as a question of whether individuals of the same sex should be banned from marrying, anti-same-sex marriage campaigns often frame the issue as a question of whether traditional marriage should be protected from redefinition. This strategy has proven successful for anti-same-sex marriage campaigns. However, same-sex marriage opponents rarely have been challenged with regard to the meaning of “traditional marriage.” In exploring the history of marriage within the United States, it becomes clear that, contrary to the understanding of the term held by the general public, traditional marriage consists of much more than opposite-sex spouses. The requirements of traditional marriage also include permanence, gender roles, monogamy, and procreation. As it turns out, the leading anti-same-sex marriage organizations are well aware of these other requirements of traditional marriage and do a significant amount of work to protect them—work about which the public remains largely unaware. This Article argues that exposing the true meaning of traditional marriage and the leading anti-same-sex marriage organizations’ efforts to protect the other requirements of traditional marriage would be a helpful strategy for pro-same-sex marriage campaigns. Specifically, it would give same-sex marriage proponents an effective response to the argument that people should vote against same-sex marriage in order to protect traditional marriage and provide pro-same-sex marriage campaigns with a compelling new way to frame the issue.